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Montanans applaud new Kootenai National Forest Plan

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Local miners, outfitters, and outdoor enthusiasts applauded the release of a new Forest Plan for the Kootenai National Forest, which pledges to conserve some of the finest natural places in northwestern Montana. 

 “The Kootenai National Forest has some of the most productive timber lands and some of the most spectacular backcountry in Montana,” said Trout Creek home builder Doug Ferrell. “The Kootenai Forest plan demonstrates that we can both develop our resources, as well as protect our precious wild country.”

 The plan will determine how the forest manages its 2.2 million acres for the next 15 to 20 years.

 “We believe in the importance of balancing opportunities for mineral development while maintaining wild and scenic recreation in the Scotchman Peaks and Cabinet Mountains,” said Tim Lindsey, Chairman of the Board for the Revett Minerals Company, owners of the Troy Mine, next to the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, and developers of the Rock Creek project, near the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness area. 

“We’re especially pleased to see that the Forest Service has recommended a wilderness designation for the Scotchmans. Our operations and mineral estate lie immediately east of this area, which is one of my very special places. I’m also pleased with the collaborative planning process utilized by the Kootenai Forest and the many stakeholders,” he said.

Montanans who have been involved in local planning efforts on the Kootenai National Forest also urged the agency to conserve several special places, including rugged portions of the Yaak Valley and the northern Whitefish Range.

Debo Powers, a resident of the North Fork Flathead River Valley, praised the Forest for maintaining the wilderness character of the Whitefish Range. “I’ve spent 34 years roaming the trails of the Whitefish Range. I stand with Montanans who have spoken out to conserve wilderness values in the Whitefish Range for nearly a hundred years,” she said. 

The new Kootenai Forest plan recommends 16,000 acres of wilderness in northern end of the Whitefish Range. The southern end of the range is managed by the Flathead National Forest.

“I think the Kootenai Forest has seized an incredible opportunity to ensure that Glacier National Park’s neighboring mountain range stays the way it is today,” Powers said.

Residents are also asking the Kootenai National Forest to support a local vision for the Yaak Valley. That vision, known as the Three Rivers Challenge, was incorporated into Senator Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in 2009.

“We worked together for years on that vision. Our livelihoods depend on these forest lands, so we all bought in,” explained Tim Linehan, who owns Linehan Outfitting in Troy. “Loggers, horsemen, hikers, and outfitters like myself—we were all at the table. I think it’s critical for the Kootenai to honor our work at the grassroots and include our vision in their final plan.”

Both the Three Rivers Challenge and the Kootenai Forest Plan recommend wilderness for Roderick Mountain.  

“Wilderness character is essential to my business, and it’s a part of our way of life in the Yaak. We need to keep what we have,” said Linehan.

While pleased with many of the components of the plan, the Montana Wilderness Association expressed disappointment that the Kootenai National Forest fails to protect the popular Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area near Eureka. Ferrell noted that the WSA protections had been put in place by Congress some 35 years ago and a shift in management would be inconsistent with that congressional mandate.

The new plan is not yet final. It faces a 60-day objections process after which the Forest will review objections and consider changes before releasing a final document.

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